You might think the Anna Maria Oyster Bar specializes in oysters. That’s certainly what I thought. Judging from the decibel level that accosts you at the front door, the AMOB is considered by many people to be the place to see and be seen on a Florida Saturday night. The ambiance is Eau-de-Margarita with whiffs of deep fried fish and the décor responds accordingly with sombreros, fishing buoys and iguanas made from distressed metal.
Yes, there are oysters on the menu but they mostly stay that way. One of the things that makes oysters ‘a thing’ is the ocean breeze you get when they are freshly shucked and the delicate brine that eases them down your throat. Freshness and oysters are a marriage not to be put asunder. I ask the server what kind of oysters they have. “Just regular oysters”, she says. “And where do they come from?”, I persist. “I think they’re from Texas”, she says. I ask her nicely to please double check. She comes back to say the generic oysters are in fact from South Carolina. They may or may not have gotten here via Texas. They are not getting to my plate.
I switched my seafood allegiance to the grouper sandwich with fries and the vegetable of the day. The ‘grilled’ grouper is as greasy as a car mechanic’s rag and rests sadly on a squishy white-bread burger bun lined with wilted iceberg lettuce. I am pretty sure the French fries recently emerged from a freezer as they arrive dry and brittle, with no hope of redemption from any of the condiments on offer – a crusty bottle of no-name ketchup and a cloudy cruet of malt vinegar. The starring vegetable is a ramekin filled with shriveled corn niblets fresh from a can, smothered in butter substitute. The sprig of parsley is relatively perky, however. Small mercies.
If you’d like an adult beverage with your dinner, AMOB is proud to offer both types of wine: red and white. I think there is only one kind of beer though, the brown kind. I opted for a glass of the white wine. As a word to the wise, typically a bad white wine is more palatable (and I use the word loosely) than a bad red wine.
Dinner ensued. When the server came by to ask how it was, I said without irony, that it was the worst dinner I have ever eaten. To SMOB’s credit, they took my $30 grouper sandwich off the bill, along with the sixty words for horrible scallop entrée of my dining companion. We were left with the remainder for the fine drinks. I did not quibble. Although when the manager offered us a complementary piece of Key Lime pie (which I’m guessing had never been to the Florida Keys), we politely declined so we could burn rubber out of the parking lot.